Docuseries ‘Phat Tuesdays’ is a hilarious look back at influential Black comedy night.
Phat Tuesdays, hosted by Guy Torry from 1995 to 2005 at the famous Comedy Store in Los Angeles, is getting its brightest spotlight yet.
A three-part docuseries, “Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy,” debuts Feb. 4 on Prime Video. East St. Louis native Reginald Hudlin directs the project, which details how the weekly event helped change the culture of comedy.
“Half the time, you’re craning your neck seeing who’s there,” he says. “It was stimulus overload and a place where you see a star being born.”
While celebrities including Prince, 2Pac, Quincy Jones and Magic Johnson were in the crowd for Phat Tuesdays, the acts onstage mattered most.
The event was created by Torry, who grew up in St. Louis, to provide opportunities for up-and-coming Black comedians. Without Phat Tuesdays, Black comics were mostly invisible at the Comedy Store.
Many of the comics who performed there went on to bigger, better things. Nick Cannon considers Phat Tuesdays the gateway to his success and calls Torry the “guardian angel” who changed his life.
Others who performed there include Kevin Hart, Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, Anthony Anderson, Dave Chappelle, Jamie Foxx, Tiffany Haddish, Steve Harvey, Lil Rel Howery, Craig Robinson, Jo Koy, Luenell, Flame Monroe, Jay Pharoah, Craig Robinson, J.B. Smoove, Kym Whitley, DeRay Davis and Berkeley native Cedric the Entertainer.
“A person could walk out there and destroy the stage, and the next thing they’re on a TV show or movie,” says Hudlin, whose directing and producing credits include the Oscars, Emmys and NAACP Image Awards, as well as movies “Marshall,” “House Party,” “Boomerang” and “Safety.” He was a producer for “Django Unchained,” which earned an Academy Award nomination.
Torry and Hudlin both serve as executive producers for “Phat Tuesdays.” “The fact East St. Louis and St. Louis came together is a beautiful thing,” Hudlin says.
Torry started working on the project over a decade ago. Finally finishing it has been an emotional experience.
“It’s been a long journey,” he says. “It’s not just the documentary. It was also Phat Tuesdays. It took a lot of sacrifices. It was hard on my marriage, tough on my career, agents and managers were saying I needed to focus on me and not other people.”
Before Hudlin got involved, Torry says, there were “a lot of cooks in the kitchen … and a lot of prayers. When we got to Reginald, it was the cherry on the top — the final and most important piece.”
The two first worked together on the 1998 comedy “Ride,” produced by Hudlin and his brother, Warrington Hudlin. (“Ride” was directed by St. Louisan Millicent Shelton and featured Cedric the Entertainer.)
“I’m a fan of (Reginald Hudlin’s) work and of his mind and of his comedy sense and the fact I knew he would get it,” Torry says.
Another big-name director was being sought, but Torry says he wanted “the right director to direct. The story was too important to have in anybody’s hands.”
When Torry reached out, Hudlin was on the set of “Django Unchained.” Hudlin immediately knew the project was worth his time.
“If Guy’s calling, I’m taking it seriously. When he described it, it sounded great. But I was in the middle of a shoot-out,” he says referring to the Western’s many action scenes. “I said, ‘Let me get settled and focus on it again later.’”
Hudlin always considered himself a student of comedy. Growing up, he watched old Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields movies and then the work of Woody Allen, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor.
“I never did stand-up, but I always respected what an incredible art form it is,” he says. “Now I get to tell the story of a pivotal moment not only in Black comedy but in Black entertainment. Guy took lemons and made lemonade. It takes an incredible leap of faith to getting the worst night of the week (at the Comedy Store) and turning it into the hottest night of the week.”
Getting people to participate in the project for free was a challenge, as was asking them to dig up and share video — and getting permission from studios to use footage.
“Everything else was easy,” Torry says. He and Hudlin were able to film interviews at the Comedy Store, which was dark because of the pandemic.
About 75 interviews were conducted for the project, with comics reminiscing about Phat Tuesdays and its influence.
“Steve Harvey ended up talking for 2½ hours,” Hudlin says. “He said no one ever asks him about comedy, the thing he cares about most. He was enthusiastic to talk. With Dave Chappelle, we flew out to Yellow Springs (Ohio). He said, ‘I never do interviews,’ but he understood the stokes of what this was.”
It wasn’t easy to decide what to include and what would end up on the cutting-room floor.
“You gotta put on your big-boy pants and make big choices about what makes it and what doesn’t,” Hudlin says. “But we’re already scheming to make sure there’s some way people can see some of the highlights.”
The docuseries takes a personal turn, looking at the strained relationship between Guy Torry and his big brother, comedian Joe Torry.
“We knew we would be able to make an audience laugh,” Hudlin says. “But we wanted to get to the heart, too. So many people can relate to tension within families. I appreciate Joe and Guy being willing to be so honest onstage. This is a real story with real people.”
What “Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy” • When Feb. 4 • Where Amazon Prime Video • More info studios.amazon.com